Bernie Sanders leads thousands at UIC get-out-the-vote rally for Brandon Johnson: ‘We have the people’

The Vermont senator aimed to energize Johnson’s progressive base and lift turnout among younger voters, who failed to turn up for the first round of balloting.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson walks on stage with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during a get out the vote rally Thursday night at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson walk on stage hand in hand Thursday at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena. Also joining Sanders to lift Johnson’s campaign were Martin Luther King III, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Rep. Jonathan Jackson and Rep. Delia Ramirez.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Thousands packed the UIC Credit Union 1 Arena on Thursday for a Brandon Johnson voter-turnout rally led by progressive icon Sen. Bernie Sanders, less than a week before the mayoral election.

The independent senator from Vermont and two-time presidential candidate walked up on stage to deafening cheers and a standing ovation. Rally-goers chanted “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”

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Sanders called Johnson a “son of the working class” and implored those in attendance to vote on April 4 and get their relatives, coworkers and friends to cast a ballot for the Cook County commissioner.

“This is going to be a close election. And the deciding factor will be voter turnout,” Sanders said. “Brandon’s opponent and the other side, they have a lot of money. That’s what always happens when you take on the establishment. They got a lot of power. But you know what we have? We have the people.”

The rally aimed to energize Johnson’s progressive base and increase turnout among younger voters, who failed to turn up in the first round of voting last month. Only 3% of ballots casts in the Feb. 28 election were by voters ages 18-24.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks Thursday during a rally for Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont headlined a rally Thursday at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena for Brandon Johnson. Sanders implored those in attendance to get friends, relatives and co-workers to the polls Tuesday. Young voters made up just 3% of votes cast in the Feb. 28 primary.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Our job on Tuesday is to make sure that we have the largest voter turnout this city has ever seen,” Sanders said. “We together are going to make sure that Brandon Johnson is the next mayor of the city.”

Sanders said that the city of Chicago is one of the most important in the country, and that the person who sits in the mayor’s office matters a great deal because they will be in charge of tackling issues like violence, which has impacted the city and others around the nation.

“We must address that crisis, but we must do it in a way that is smart and effective,” Sanders said. “And that means not only with high-quality and non-racist law enforcement, it means that we must address the epidemic of mental illness. The epidemic of drug abuse, the epidemic of poverty and the epidemic of guns on the street. That is something that Brandon Johnson understands.”

A jubilant Johnson joined Sanders on stage, joining hands with the senator and raising them above the cheering crowd. Speaking to the audience, Johnson said his candidacy was a key moment in the long fight for civil rights.

“This moment has been brought by a very long struggle. A struggle that many of our ancestors knew that one day tomorrow would come,” Johnson said. “And I just can’t help but feel that tomorrow has finally arrived. And those who saw this country for what it could become, and not what it was, understood that one day a dream would come alive. Our dream is the nightmare of these large corporations who do not want to see this day come into fruition.”

“When our country was in one of its most difficult moments in our nation’s history, someone decided that it was important to send a signal to the rest of the world,” Johnson continued. “And it wasn’t just about having a seat on the bus, it was about being able to sit wherever you want.”

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson smiles at supporters as he speaks during a get out the vote rally Thursday night at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Brandon Johnson smiles as he greets supporters with open arms at a rally Thursday night at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena. He said his candidacy was a key moment in the long fight for civil rights in the nation. “This moment has been brought by a very long struggle. A struggle that many of our ancestors knew that one day tomorrow would come,” Johnson said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Johnson then took aim at his opponent, Paul Vallas, saying that the forces that fought against change have embraced the former Chicago Public Schools chief executive. The mention of Vallas’ name drew loud jeers and boos from the crowd.

“Those forces that have wrapped themselves up in my opponent, they want to redo all the mess that they created. When you have an opponent like Paul Vallas, who has literally failed people everywhere he has gone,” Johnson said. “He has destroyed every economy that he participated in. His failures are so profound we are still living the experience of his failures. And just like the people of Montgomery that said you will not turn us around, Chicago, we are not going to allow the extremists, right-wing greedy profiteers to turn us around.”

Johnson then led the crowd in a chant, asking them to shout “Paul Vallas, take a seat!”

“Don’t that feel good?” Johnson asked after the audience responded loudly to the request.

The rally was originally set to take place at the UIC Forum, which can accommodate up to 3,000, but it was moved to the bigger Union 1 arena because of “popular demand” according to the Johnson campaign. The arena can accommodate 9,500, and organizers said 4,000 showed up.

Supporters cheer Thursday night as they wait for Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson to speak at a get out the vote rally at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Supporters cheer Thursday night as they wait for Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson to speak at a get-out-the-vote rally at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Many in the crowd sported shirts emblazoned with Sanders’ face and carried signs reading “Brandon for Chicago.” Several red CTU shirts were also seen among the audience. When asked who they were excited to see more, attendees said they were equally excited to hear Johnson and Sanders.

Before Johnson and Sanders took the stage, Chicago rapper Vic Mensa performed his song “Shelter,” replacing some of the lyrics in the chorus with “Brandon Johnson got the world on my side.”

Other speakers included Martin Luther King III, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Rep. Jonathan Jackson and Rep. Delia Ramirez.

King said his father always spoke about the importance of going to the ballot box as an invaluable step in addressing critical issues in the city. He urged the audience to cast a vote on Election Day.

“You happen to have an election on April 4. April 4 would be 55 years since my father was killed, but he’s going to be looking down on Chicago Tuesday to see what you do,” King said. “We have got to be very excited about Tuesday. Turnout is what’s going to be the determination of this election.”

Martin Luther King III speaks Thursday during a rally for Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Martin Luther King III speaks Thursday during a rally for Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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